June 23, 2010 12:02 Age: 4 yrs

GIVING BACK: Paying It Forward Through Mentoring

By: April L. Bogle

Simon Synder 11L discusses his summer plans with his mentor Della Wagner Wells 86L.

April Ross 11L knew she wanted to serve the court. She just didn’t know whether employment law or criminal law was the best path until her mentor, Rich Escoffery 95L, literally led her through the courtroom door.

“Rich was insightful about how to market myself, gave me the big picture and always helped me get to the next step,” Ross says.

A top student from San Francisco with plenty of confidence and charisma, Simon Snyder 11L has everything going for him—except East Coast contacts who could help him find a job in energy law. He so impressed his mentor, Della Wagner Wells 86L, she is “calling in her chips” to arrange meetings with her most important connections.

“I know I have someone who is completely in my court and whom I can rely on to do whatever reasonably is possible to help me,” Snyder says. “That is such a comfort.”

A strong mentoring program is the “cornerstone for students to connect with the world of practice and the platform that sends them on their way,” says Gregory L. Riggs 79L, associate dean for student services and community engagement. “We want the program to bring students and alumni together to enrich the student experience, to help discern their path and to help prepare them for success.”

To strengthen the program, Riggs held focus groups with students and alumni in the fall. A few enhancements resulted:

  • First-year students sign up during the second semester, making the mentor-mentee match more effective.
  • Matches are based on concentrations within practice areas, requiring students to complete a form that drills down to specifics.
  • Mentor guidelines suggest activities and provide a process for providing feedback.

 A genuine interest in making the relationship work is essential, say mentors and mentees. “It’s reciprocal,” Snyder says. “The more you are interested in them, the more they are interested in you. It’s great to have someone so supportive in your court.”

Wells, a partner at Alston & Byrd LLC in energy finance law, arranged meetings for Snyder with prominent energy attorneys in Washington, D.C. “The best I can do is make sure he has the opportunity to speak with people about how they got where they are going,” she says.

Mentors and mentees agree that appropriate expectations are critical. “Don’t expect a job out of it. It’s about relationships and advice,” says Ross, who encourages mentees “to be assertive in the first contact, stay on top of it and prepare a list of questions in case things get awkward in the conversation.”

Escoffery, a partner at Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson LLP in labor and employment litigation, appreciates Ross’ approach. “When you have someone who wants to be actively involved, the mentor gets as much out of it as the student.”

He took Ross to lunch with his mentor, federal Judge Gerrilyn Brill 75L, in the courthouse cafeteria so Ross could rub elbows with other judges and attorneys. Escoffery also suggested she consider the district attorney’s office as a step to running for a judgeship and encouraged her to apply for a clerkship.

Ross will spend the summer working at the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and interning at Taylor and English LLP. Snyder continues networking along the East Coast. But one thing is certain, they appreciate the help they’ve received and understand its value.

“Della had someone help her, so it’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of a thing,” Synder says. “When I’m out of school, I will feel obligated—and happy—to give back.”

April L. Bogle is the director of public relations and information for the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory.

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